Erika Sigvardsdotter

Short presentation

I am the coordinator for the Centre for medical humanities. My doctoral research in human geography concerned the condition of undocumentedness in a Swedish context, using access to health care as the key empirical example. Since then, I have been active in the border lands between social science and health sciences. My research has concerned the understandings of mental health among people involved in integration initiatives, and trauma history among refugee groups.


  • human geography
  • kulturgeografi
  • medical humanities
  • medicinsk humaniora
  • papperslösa
  • phenomenology
  • psykisk hälsa


Undocumented, illegal, sans-papier, papperslös – these are terms designating people who live where they lack the documents to officially reside. The negation built into these words constitutes a key factor in all dimensions of undocumentedness. Officially absent, they leave no traces of their presence – work is undertaken, apartments and rooms are inhabited, but by whom?

My thesis provides an ethnography and critical phenomenology of undocumentedness in the Swedish context. By attending to the forces and processes that circumscribe the life-worlds of undocumented persons, as well as the phenomenology and essential experiences of their condition, a complex and multi-layered illustration of what undocumentedness is and means is successively presented. Employing a dual conceptualization of the state, as a juridico-political construct as well as a practiced and embodied set of institutions, the undocumented position emerges as a legal category defined only through omission, produced and reproduced through administrative routine and practice. The health care sector provides empirical examples of state-undocumented interaction where the physical and corporeal presence of the officially absent becomes irrefutable. This research suggests that the Swedish welfare state – universalistic, comprehensive and with digitized administrative routines – becomes a particularly austere environment in which to be undocumented.

Drawing on interviews with regional and local health care administrators, NGO-clinics’ representatives and health professionals, as well as extensive participatory observation and interviews with undocumented persons, I argue that the undocumented condition is characterized by simultaneous absence and presence, and a correspondingly paradoxical spatiality. I suggest that the official absence and deportability of undocumented persons deprives them of the capacity to define space and, in an Arendtian sense, appear as themselves to others. There are, however, some opportunities for embodied political protest and dissensus. The paradoxical qualities of the absent-present condition manipulate the undocumented mode of being-in-the-world and I argue that alienation and disorientation are essential experiences of the undocumented situation.


This text is not available in English, therefore the Swedish version is shown.

Doktorsavhandlingen Presenting the Absent – an account of undocumentedness in Sweden, är en kritisk fenomenologisk undersökning av papperslöshet och papperslösas position och levda erfarenhet i Sverige. Papperslösas möten med vården utgör exempelkontext där den papperslösa positionen i förhållande till det offentliga undersöks. Det empiriska materialet består av dels intervjuer med vårdpersonal och tjänstemän, dels deltagande observation och intervjuer med papperslösa personer i olika sammanhang. Analysen är i grunden baserad på en Merleau-Ponty-sk fenomenologi, kompletterad av Sara Ahmeds och Iris Marion Youngs queera och feministiska fokus, Hannah Arendts förståelse av det offentliga rummet, och en uppmärksamhet för rumsliga aspekter grundad i geografisk litteratur, som exempelvis Gunnar Olssons geofilosofi.

Mitt postdoktorsprojekt vid Röda Korsets högskola handlade om flyktingars och asylsökandes traumahistorik med fokus på tortyr, och utgjorde en del av ett större forskningsprojekt om psykisk hälsa i samma målgrupp. Mellan 2017-2020 arbetade jag med ett större Forte-finansierat projekt som rörde erfarenheter hos tjänstemän, lärare, informatörer, och frivilliga som arbetar med etableringsinsatser och integrationsprojekt i Sverige. Projektet syftade till att undersöka föreställningar om integration och psykisk ohälsa för personer som arbetar i verksamheter som ska främja integration.

Erika Sigvardsdotter